Keeping higher education higherGuidelines aimed at protecting students studying abroad from low-quality higher education services were launched today by UNESCO and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The Guidelines are a response to the exponential growth in this area, fuelled by growing numbers of increasingly mobile university students and academic staff and a corresponding leap in the providers of higher education.
An estimated two million foreign students are studying in the OECD nations, 61 percent of whom come from countries outside the OECD. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, out of every ten tertiary students studying abroad, five are Asians, three are Europeans and one is African. Half of all foreign study takes place in Europe and one-quarter in the United States.
The range of providers has also dramatically evolved, from traditional universities and institutions of higher learning to virtual organizations specializing in e-learning, and from private companies and international corporations to partnerships between private and public groups. According to the OECD, the higher education market in its member states is conservatively worth some $40 billion annually
This breakneck growth is set to continue. There are more than 100 million higher education students today. Before 2020, their number are expected to top 125 million.
The UNESCO-OECD Guidelines address concerns raised over the quality of courses offered in this new marketplace. “Quality is an issue,” says Peter Smith, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education. “The Organization has long encouraged the internationalization of education and the involvement of a range of partners, but we must also protect students from inadequate learning resources, low-quality provisions, degree mills and bogus institutions.”
The Guidelines spell out the responsibility of foreign providers to deliver programmes of comparable quality to their domestic provision; encourage the establishment of a comprehensive system of quality assurance and accreditation; emphasize the need for increased transparency on quality, which will allow students to make informed decisions and facilitate recognition of qualifications; bring together various stakeholders and stress the need for collaboration; and invite student bodies to get involved as active partners of quality provision.
This is the first time that UNESCO and the OECD have collaborated in developing guidelines in this way. Although not binding, their endorsement by two international organizations grouping 191 countries gives them significant force.
The two organizations will continue working together to implement the Guidelines. UNESCO will take the lead in capacity-building activities such as providing assistance to governments in developing regulatory frameworks, organizing regional and sub-regional workshops, and developing toolkits and other training materials. And the two will together develop an international portal listing all recognised higher education institutions/providers.